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Song of the Stygian Naiades -- Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Guest poem submitted by Catherine Pegg:

I haven't seen much Beddoes on your (excellent) site, so I thought I'd
contribute some:
(Poem #1542) Song of the Stygian Naiades
 Proserpine may pull her flowers,
   Wet with dew or wet with tears,
   Red with anger, pale with fears,
 Is it any fault of ours,
 If Pluto be an amorous king,
   And comes home nightly, laden,
 Underneath his broad bat-wing,
   With a gentle, mortal maiden?
 Is it so?  Wind, is it so?
 All that you and I do know
 Is, that we saw fly and fix
 'Mongst the reeds and flowers of Styx,
     Where the Furies made their hay
     For a bed of tiger cubs,
     A great fly of Beelzebub's,
     The bee of hearts, which mortals name
     Cupid, Love, and Fie for shame.

 Proserpine may weep in rage,
   But, ere I and you have done
   Kissing, bathing in the sun,
 What I have in yonder cage,
 Bird or serpent, wild or tame,
   She shall guess and ask in vain;
 But, if Pluto does't again,
   It shall sing out loud his shame.
 What hast caught then?  What hast caught?
 Nothing but a poet's thought,
 Which so light did fall and fix
 'Mongst the reeds and flowers of Styx,
     Where the Furies made their hay
     For a bed of tiger cubs, -
     A great fly of Beelzebub's,
     The bee of hearts, which mortals name
     Cupid, Love, and Fie for shame.
-- Thomas Lovell Beddoes
Notes:  Pluto is the Roman God of the Dead (known on the Greek side as
Hades).  One of his stories is about his kidnapping of Proserpina, Goddess
of Spring, and his marriage of her.  The Styx is the river separating the
living world from the Land of the Dead, and a Naiad is a young lady with no
kit on who lives in a river, possibly drowning people.  The Furies are three
very scary ladies whose business was vengeance on oathbreakers and
kinslayers, and Cupid (Eros) is the Roman God of Love.

Why do I love this poem?  Is it the hilarity sneaking out of a mythological
theme?  The visuality and oddity of the Furies making a bed for the tiger
cubs?  The lovely metrical scanning and rhyme that characterises Beddoes'
work?  All of them, I guess.

Beddoes is known for his gory, macabre poetry, but he also did some
wonderful love songs, too.  Here's another one that I like:

 How many times do I love thee, dear?
   Tell me how many thoughts there be
        In the atmosphere
        Of a new-fall'n year,
 Whose white and sable hours appear
   The latest flake of Eternity;
 So many times do I love thee, dear.

 How many times do I love again?
   Tell me how many beads there are
        In a silver chain
        Of evening rain,
 Unravelled from the tumbling main,
   And threading the eye of a yellow star:
 So many times do I love again.

It had these beautiful images, and this nice tight metre that we just don't
see anymore, dammit.  Poetry took a turn for the worse when poets stopped
rhyming.  Not that there haven't been some wonderful free-verse poems, but
it encourages laziness and sloppy technique.  Sorry for the rant, there,
it's a pet peeve of mine.

I think there was an anniversary or festival for Beddoes last year, though
don't quote me on that.  His life and death were sad, macabre, and funny
which, considering his poems, he might have approved of.

All the best,

36 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

John K. Taber said...

One can get confused reading Catherine Pegg's comment: Hades is the
not the Greek god corresponding to Pluto. She meant Dis.

Sorry to be pedantic, but we gotta keep our gods straight.

John K. Taber

Catherine Pegg said...

PLUTO: a) the god of the region of the dead and huspand of Persephone.
He was also called Hades by the Greeks and Dis by the Romans ...

from The World Book Dictionary (1985) eds. Barnhart, C. L. & Barnhart, R.
K., Chicago: Doubleday and Company.

HADES: In Homer, the name of the god (Pluto) who reigns over the dead;
but in later classical mythology the abode of the departed spirits ...

from The Brewer Dictionary Of Phrase And Fable (1986, later edition)
Hertfordshire: Omega Books Ltd.

Pedantry is fine. So is the ability and willingness to recheck sources if
in doubt. You had me worried for a moment there, mate [rueful grin]. Keep

Cat Pegg

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